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Comptroller slams administrator in audit

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Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman released an audit on Dec. 20 that was sharply critical of the county Office of the Public Administrator and its former administrator.

The comptroller found that the office “lacked proper oversight into how to manage tens of millions of dollars of estate assets annually,” according to a news release. The public administrator is responsible for locating heirs for the estates of Nassau County residents who die intestate, or whose heirs are unwilling or unable to act as trustees for those estates. It disbursed more than $54 million from 2015 to 2017, inclusive, “to beneficiaries, vendors and others without strong internal controls or oversight,” Schnirman said in a statement.

The comptroller found that the administrator, Jeffrey DeLuca, until his resignation on Nov. 9, was not involved in the daily administration of his office, which Schnirman described as “short-staffed.” The lack of oversight led to “internal control and segregation-of-duty issues and excessive reliance on outside resources.” According to Schnirman, the office allocated “more than $3 million to outside parties to handle the major operations of the office.” The cost of such outside vendors is charged against the estates the office administers.

The audit also found that the lack of oversight resulted in inaccurate staff and leave balances; that the administrator did not accurately inventory personal property from estates under his review; that the administrator inaccurately represented his own arrival and departure times, as well as his personal leave; and that vendor selection was not carried out according

to departmental procedures or best practices.

Schnirman found further that reports to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service of payments for vendor and professional services were “potentially understated, which could result in the underpayment of vendor income taxes.”

The former administrator, Jeffrey DeLuca, “retired suddenly after the draft audit was provided to him,” on Nov. 9 and was succeeded in the $154,100-a-year job by former N.Y. State Assemblyman Brian Curran, who is no relation to Laura Curran, the current Nassau County executive.

Schnirman recommended that the county “employ a knowledgeable public administrator who is fully engaged in the operations of the office.” He recommended especially that “outside parties should not be excessively involved in office operations”; that an in-house accountant be hired to oversee estate assets; that the office should advertise for vendors in a timely manner and follow departmental policy and best practices to ensure that vendors are hired at competitive prices; that departmental staff should record hours worked and keep track of all off-site field work; and that a single electronic case management system be funded and implemented to replace the multiple systems currently in place that result in labor-intensive processes.

DeLuca responded to the audit by asserting that his office was “in full compliance with the [Surrogate Court Procedure Act] and the [Public Administrator] Guidelines,” without acknowledging any shortcomings in his office’s activities.

The Office of the Public Administrator was established under the New York State Surrogate Court Procedure Act.